Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The question is no longer if Mike Leach will get an extension, but rather does he deserve one?
On Monday it was announced that Washington State had extended Leach's contract through the 2018 season. That means the 'Air Raid' will live on in Pullman for at least a few more years.
Leach was one of a number of high-profile coaching hires in the Pac-12 a year ago. The group included Jima Mora, Todd Graham and Rich Rodriguez. Each of those three already received an extension and for good reason. Mora has had UCLA in the national rankings in the last two seasons. Graham has Arizona State poised to play in the Pac-12 Championship game and Rodriguez has more wins (14) in the last two seasons than Arizona had in the two years before he took the helm.
But what about Leach?
The easy answer is that the Cougars aren't that much better off. Since Leach took over, Washington State has won eight games and lost 14. That's not exactly championship caliber.
However, Leach took over a program that had been stuck in reverse for far too long. Before Leach took the head job for the Cougars there had not been a team with a record above .500 in Pullman since 2003. In fact, with eight wins in two seasons, Leach has nearly eclipsed the combined win total (nine) for the Cougars in the four years before his hiring.
In essence he has had to build the program from the ground up. Expecting Pac-12 title berths and national rankings in his first two years would have been asking a bit too much.
"Mike Leach has done a fabulous job in his short time at Washington State," Washington State athletic director Bill Moos said. "Extending his contract through the 2018 season will ensure a bright future for Cougar football. I believe he is among the best college football coaches in America and is a fantastic fit in Pullman."
With the extension, Moos and the rest of the Cougars' athletic administration are certainly investing in the future of the program and hoping Leach is the man to lead them back to relevance and eventually prominence.
The question of whether or not that hope is built on the right foundation still lingers.
Right now the Cougars are 5-5 overall with two games to play. That puts them closer to a bowl bid than they have been in quite some time. Ending a decade- long postseason drought would certainly be a check mark in the pro column for Leach's extension.
The 5-5 record has some impressive wins and tough losses. The Cougars took out USC, 10-7, earlier in the season, although it was before the firing of Lane Kiffin and the Trojans' recent surge. Washington State also matched up well in the opener at Auburn, before losing 31-24. The outcome wasn't that impressive early on, but now that Auburn is the sixth-ranked team in the country, it has gained some respect.
While there have been some strong showings, the Cougars just haven't looked good in the most important games. In league play the Cougars are just 4-12 in Leach's first two seasons. They have been nowhere near competitive against the upper echelon either. This year the Cougars were blasted by Stanford (55-17), Oregon (62-38) and Arizona State (55-21), which represents the top three teams in the conference currently.
What has been most intriguing about the Cougars since Leach took over is their change in offensive philosophy. When he was hired it was clear the Cougars wanted something new and more akin to the high-octane offenses they were facing in the Pac-12. Leach's signature 'Air Raid' system returned huge results at Texas Tech and he has implemented that attack with Washington State.
Just as the team's success in the standings has gone, the transition to a radical game plan was rocky at first, but the Cougars have begun to adapt. Washington State is second in the Pac-12 in passing offense (360.4 ypg) this year. That is nearly a 30-yard improvement from a year ago and an even bigger step up from when the Cougars were the worst passing team in the Pac-12 during the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
Leach's work with the offense has been embodied in the improvements of Connor Halliday. The junior signal caller has thrown for an astounding 3,417 yards this season and a career-high 22 touchdowns. Even more importantly, he has been completing passes at a much higher rate. Last year, while sharing time with Jeff Tuel, Halliday connected on just 52.2 percent of his attempts. This year Halliday has bumped that rate up to 63.7 percent with a better understanding of the playbook. Halliday, who set a NCAA record for attempts earlier this year, leads the nation in completions and attempts. However, so many throws have forced some bad decisions from Halliday, who has 19 interceptions.
Still, the trajectory for Halliday points up just as it does for the Cougars. That is especially true as the roster continues to be filled out by recruits from Leach's staff and not a previous regime.
An extension doesn't mean a whole lot in the world of college football. Coaches who were successful one year can feel the heat the next. Leach has been given a vote of confidence. Now it's up to him to keep earning it.